Sci-Fi Central

Jasin Boland

1. THE MATRIX (1999)
Directed by the Wachowski brothers

Heading into 1999, there was one movie that was supposed to be the second coming. The culmination of an extended sci-fi moment that had helped hardwire the culture for mythic, stargazing escapism. By all rights, it should be sitting atop this list. But Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace turned out to be a case study in empty pop idolatry. Fortunately, there was a movie released the same year that was able to play that part, a film as unexpected, groundbreaking, and capture-the-imagination entertaining as the first Star Wars: The Matrix.

Written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski — a pair of hyper-erudite, super-shy comic-book writers-turned-filmmakers who became overnight cult icons for their trouble — The Matrix was one geeky gumbo of brainy mumbo jumbo; a multi-megabyte compression of mythological and theological ideas, Hong Kong action-film aesthetics, and videogame special effects. Somehow, it worked. Brilliantly. Keanu Reeves was Neo, a spiritually numb computer programmer who learns that not only is his life an illusory sham — the world as he knows it is a virtual-reality prison, created by sentient machines who had won an apocalyptic war against humanity — but that he is destined to become a hero-messiah. The Matrix crackled with late-'90s millennial angst and tech-boom delirium — a freaky-fun fable for a ghost-in- the-machine culture. Bottom line: The Matrix was just...whoa.

POP CULTURE LEGACY With its cutting-edge effects, balletic fight sequences, and leather-dusters-andblack- shades wardrobe, The Matrixredefined the look of Hollywood action. It sparked a moviegoing crush on Asian wire-fu (see: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and set the stage for our current moment of superhero pop and thoughtful science fiction (see: Battlestar Galactica, Lost). It also spawned two sequels that sucked. Nonetheless, The Matrix's accomplishment remains undiminished.

THE BEST BIT The moment that brought bullet time to the movies: Neo's rooftop gunfight with a nefarious Agent. Slow motion has never been so kinetic. —Jeff Jensen

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